Wednesday, September 11, 2019

ACSC/APF 2019 - Thai/ASEAN government 'betrayal' using money, conditions/restrictions to subvert Human Rights struggle? Blame CSOs or government?

Well, in Thailand, there are problems with the ASEAN Peoples Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference [APF/ACSC]- there are 2 now? And a perusal of the internet reveals no media coverage of the 'atrocity' that happened...WHY?

The forum that is taking place at the Berkeley Hotel Pratunam is not a forum of ASEAN people. It is a forum organized by the Thai government with only Thai participants. There are no participants from other ASEAN countries.

We are disappointed. We are floundering because the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security abruptly refuses to support us a week before the official forum. This occurs when we refuse the Ministry’s attempt to select participants and control the People’s Forum. Regardless of the struggle, we are determined to uphold the principles of ASEAN to respect the people and inclusiveness. 

We thank the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security for previously set a budget to support the ACSC/APF. We are disheartened that we cannot continue to have the Ministry’s support. On the other hand, the Ministry perversely squanders the government budget to organize a people’s forum.

One organised by the government and one organised by the CSOs and Human Rights Defenders...Earlier, there was one ...but then there were 'conditions' imposed by the government ...that led to 2. 

What happened? See the statement issued by the organizers of the current ACSC/APF - which I think is rather 'soft' considering what happened at the very last minute forcing them to find new venues and even 'new donations' to cover the cost...Sadly, the statement is not at all strong ....what the government did is WRONG - but what do you expect, 'will any government help organize a forum of HR Defenders, which will certainly HIGHLIGHT human rights violations of the government, OR HR violations which that government has failed or refused to address?

The persons and groups that were  organising the ACSC/APF for many years now have been becoming more and more 'government-friendly' which led to the acceptance of funds and also 'co-organising' with government. 

They have also been becoming less critical of human rights violations committed by government(or others). 

These civil society groups also started to stop 'highlighting' specifics of human rights violations - moving away from the 'name and shame' approach ...all, of which to have 'closer ties' with the approach that they hoped will lead to greater government acceptance and hence increased chances to get more justice and human rights - WELL, it did not work...for governments that violate human rights (or support alleged perpetrators) will certainly slowly eliminate true HR Defenders or make them weaker...and today, many CSOs and HR Defender groups have become 'toothless'...Has the mainstream media even carried what happened in Thailand? 

Many groups and HR Defenders unhappiness with the organizers of this ASCC/APF were doing has been growing and many have moved away...or simply 'boycotted' such programs.

WILL THE CSO ORGANISERS OF THE ACSC/APF LEARN FROM WHAT HAS HAPPENED? Or will they simply continue 'cooperating with government' or accepting government funds...I wonder. The Open Letter issued highlights our concerns ...for despite what happened, it is lame ...and in fact, there is still so much 'thanking' of government...when really it should have been so much more stronger about this most serious human rights violations by the government at the very last minute...

In the last few years, the ACSC/APF organisers have been bending over backwards to 'please' the government...was it the money? Was it the government recognition? Was it also a betrayal of justice and human rights - when HR Defenders weaken their calls for justice and human rights...?

Choosing or vetting of participants - well, that is the issue that angers the current ACSC/APF organisers - but maybe, the question that they must ask themselves is whether they too have been guilty of 'choosing' participants - do they invite the stronger more vocal groups and provide funding to come? Or have they been inclined to invite participants that will not challenge what they have been doing ...or HIGHLIGHTING the failings of the organising members?

In every countries, the reps are supposed to chose the participants from their respective countries...but are all CSOs, HR Defenders, Community Groups, Trade Unions, ...even privy of this information and/or are selected. The ACSC/APF charges USD10 for participants - but alas, most HR groups have no money...and they use their own monies and energy in their struggle...USD10 is also just too much for them...Access to such programs is a concern - so who really attends? Are they truly representatives of the people and communities, CSOs that struggle for HRs and Justice?

At the last few ASCS/APF, even the statements of these meetings were not openly discussed, and approved by the participants that attended. There is not even space in the program for this process which in the early days usually was a lot - usually about half a day to a day >> Time is needed to lobby, discuss, debate and finally come to a common statement - but this is democratic participation. In the recent past, some 'participant's' statement were even sent to the ASEAN and member States even before the participants saw and agreed to the statement? 

WHAT WERE THESE GATHERINGS OF CSO's, NGOs, Trade Unions, and other HR Defender groups? The original objects were slowly lost ... read on below...

The coming together of Civil Society Groups, HR Defenders, NGOs, Trade Unions, etc Asia started many many years ago with the PP 21(1992) in Bangkok, since then there were Asian Gatherings, even a limiting to ASEAN states is a weakening of the peoples' and HR Defenders movement ..Should we go back to trying to organize Asian level programs (without government funding or control?)

Before, it brought together many different persons and groups involved in different issues of justice and human rights from many different countries >  Developing SOLIDARITY and a stronger movement towards justice and human rights was the priority. We took the opportunity of this gathering to expose people to other areas of HR and Justice, so that they know the issues and their support could also be obtained. So, not only were people exposed to main issues in different countries...but also the main issues of specific concerns b it women's issues, indigenous people's issues, workers and trade union rights, repressive laws... As such, there were a lot of plenary sessions that dealt with this...and the final support of all these different groups with different concerns materialized in the FINAL STATEMENT of all participants..

YES, at the end of the day a women's rights activist would have an understanding of environmental rights issues or landless farmer's issues. A democracy activist will know about workers' rights and child rights..

YES - these meetings PRIMARY objective was to generate awareness about all different human rights and justice struggles...and to lobby support from all...> so, at the end of the day, the numbers of people calling for justice and human rights in all the different areas of concern is stronger...and as such more effective..hence the importance of the right program...and of course the process of generating the final statement that reflects the new stance of all participants after our meeting/gathering ...

The second object was the CALLING together as one ALL governments and ASEAN ...and others to LISTEN and ACT to respect, defend and promote human rights and justice....

It is not simply an exercise to show we can gather thousands at a meeting - but more importantly that we not only participated, but more importantly NOW are ONE in the struggle for human rights..

Over the years, more and more side events/programs were organized. The problem with 'side events', say one on migrant rights - we will see that most who go who already be advocates for migrant rights ...those involved in other rights issues like land or housing rights, democratic rights, indigenous people's rights, etc just do not go... A few such events are OK - but more should be happening at PLENARY sessions where all participants are present ...and these PLENARY sessions must ,be introducing people to what the other groups are doing and fighting for in the other areas of rights...WE ARE AFTER ALL LOBBYING FOR SUPPORT FROM ALL IN OUR STUGGLE FOR RIGHTS IN THE DIFFERENT AREAS... 

Will the ACSC/APF organizers change? Or will they simply organise similar events the same way?  


- Money is one way...and, of course it will come with conditions...and, real strong groups may never get financial assistance..
- RECOGNITION - well, nowadays it is fashionable for governments to have consultation meetings with CSOs - but if you are a strong advocate may find yourself not being invited for future meetings..
- APPOINTMENTS - well, now some governments just appoints some HR Defenders to even become Senators or Local Councillors, into Commissions or into government jobs ..with good salary...and sadly, many receive such offers, end of the day, the people and communities and Human Rights lose many 'champions' of Human Rights and Justice - for now they 'transform' into defenders of government...
- Of course, the old ways like arrest, prosecution, 'extra-judicial killing', enforced disappearance, harassment, threats all...still happen in the region...

The other problem today is identifying whether a person is truly committed to justice or human rights ...and is a true HR Defender . Before many of such persons did this without any pay(or financial remunerations)...but today many of them are paid employees of CSOs and HR Groups...and sadly when some of these 'HR Defenders' leave their jobs for some other commercial or government jobs, they are no more interested in HR and justice - we do not even see them anymore...this is a BIG impact for the people and victims of HR Violations and/or Injustices - who do they trust...?

The struggle for the respect, defence and promotion of Human Rights is many...and we hope that current CSOs, HR Defender organisations and the people in this group do not do things that compromise the struggle...

Should ACSC/APF even continue? Initially there was hope that ASEAN and ASEAN member States may do something to respect, defend and promote Human Rights ...but after all these years, all they have come out is with Declarations and Documents on HR which they, the member States, also continue to violate...and there is no complaint mechanisms . no periodic review of compliance...or even a process that allows for recommendations... so, is the ASEAN civil society wasting its time with ASEAN?

However, if the primary objective is building SOLIDARITY, which is based on increasing awareness of all other issues and concerns of human rights so that we will have a LARGER STRONGER MORE EFFECTIVE struggle for HRs and Justice in Asia or ASEAN or South East Asia ...then maybe we still need it? 

How will the current ACSC/APF happening at a new venue at one of the Universities do? Will they have a STRONG participants statement that specifically highlights the rights violations now happening in Thailand, Myanmar and other ASEAN member States, and demanding a strong response? Will they DEMAND human rights and justice...or will they 'diplomatically' beg or softly suggest..without even highlighting specific violations hoping that they will still get monies from government for future ACSC/APF? We shall see...we await their subsequent statements...

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